Workwear Is Changing—Here’s How To Dress for the Modern Office

The key to adopting an updated work wardrobe is in curating a mix of formal pieces you already have with items that feel a bit more easygoing.

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When Nikki Ogunnaike got dressed for her first day back at the office, she described it like putting her training wheels back on. The digital director of Harper’s Bazaar had spent the pandemic like many, working from her sofa. But once her workplace reopened, she found herself having to get dressed all over again—with many items that she hadn’t touched in two years. “Everything from the kind of shoes I commute in, to the bag that I carry my laptop in to and from the train, to the kind of coats that I’m wearing … all of it was so foreign.”

Ogunnaike isn’t alone. After extended periods of work from home, changes in company structures, and larger cultural shifts, returning to the office has left many women reassessing what they want to wear to work and what parts of their old wardrobe they’ll be holding onto (along with what they’re ready to let go of). 

“I do think that in a post-pandemic world, there’s a larger emphasis around having fun and expressing individuality in your work wardrobe,” said Sali Christeson, Founder and CEO of Argent, a label aimed at modernizing women’s workwear. She explains that the brand has addressed the shift by taking classic silhouettes and offering them in hues like lime green, buttery yellow and magenta. While women in formal offices may still find the expectations around traditional tailored workwear to be unchanged, color is one of the ways to embrace the newfound playfulness of dressing up.

At Everlane, Global Creative Director Shu Hung echoes a shift in style choices, emphasizing a desired hybrid of traditional office-wear and the sweats many adjusted to amidst the pandemic. “Customers are still coming to us for those workwear staples like button-up shirts and trousers, but are excited to see our new takes on classic styles,” she explains. “Our Dream Pant has a sweatpant-feel with a tailored look that our customers love for long days at the office. Those same pants turn into the perfect on-the-go trousers for errands or dinner afterwards. We find that customers are really looking for that balance of polish and comfort, and do not want to compromise.”

The key to adopting an updated work wardrobe is in curating a mix of formal pieces you already have with items that feel a bit more easygoing. Ogunnaike notes that she’s experimenting anew with old pieces in her collection such as blazers from Chanel, Altuzarra and Ralph Lauren. “Invest in your tailored pieces, but don’t feel like you need to wear them all together,” explains Theory‘s Chief Merchant and Creative Officer, Jeffrey Kalinsky. “You should have a perfectly tailored pant that you can pair back to a tee and a great blazer to throw on over a dress—don’t be afraid to mix it all up.”

Even as shoppers approach weaving casual pieces into the modern workwear rotation—say a slouchy tee or casual sneaker—Kalinsky and Christeson both emphasize the continued importance of investing in a handful of formal staples like a blazer and trousers. “They’re polished pieces with the ability to dress up or down,” explains Christeson. While you may want to experiment with looser silhouettes and softer materials when it comes to these classics, having them on hand can help turn getting dressed for work into an easier form of uniform dressing, taking some of the guesswork out of your morning routine. 

Below, find five key categories for nailing the return-to-work wardrobe.

All Items are independently selected by the Observer’s editors. When you make a purchase, we may earn a commission that supports our work.

Trousers

When it comes to trousers, don’t be afraid to experiment with something more colorful than what you may have considered in the past. Also, be sure to keep comfort in mind when picking out a new pair. Aim for loose, comfortable silhouettes, or if you’re opting for something more fitted, pay close attention to material. A pull-on style in a soft, sweat-like material will feel less like work pants and more like what you’d be wearing when you’re cozy at home. 

Harris Tapper Harry Trouser Blue

$499, Shop Now

Harris Tapper

Everlane The Dream Pant

$88, Shop Now

Everlane

Theory Treeca Pull-On Pant

$245, Shop Now

Theory

Work Jeans

As denim trends have shifted, the last few years have found many trendsetters swapping their skinny jeans for baggier silhouettes. While you may be concerned that relaxed denim skews too casual, landing on a relaxed but structured silhouette can actually make denim feel more appropriate for work.

DL1961 Hepburn High Rise Wide Leg Pleated Jeans

$209, Shop Now

DL1961 via Shopbop

Isabel Marant Lemony Flared Jeans

$580, Shop Now

Isabel Marant via SSENSE

Madewell Baggy Straight Jeans in Westmont Wash

$98, Shop Now

Madewell

The New Work Dress

It’s time to ditch the standard shift dress for something not only more comfortable, but with a bit more personality. Opt for playful colors in silky styles that you could wear to post-work drinks, but that are still office appropriate. While different offices will have their own specific dress codes, it never hurts to add a bit of flair while staying within the bounds of appropriate dress. 

Rixo Aspen Floral-Print Crepe Midi Dress

$405, Shop Now

Rixo via Net-a-Porter

Zara Plaid Print Dress

$69.90, Shop Now

Zara

Argent Polo Dress in Knit

$348, Shop Now

Argent

Modern Blazer

“I’m rediscovering my signature outfits that made me feel put together really quickly,” explains Ogunnaike. Her favorite blazers have become a key part of outfit building. If you’re investing in something new, ditch your ultra-fitted blazer for something a bit looser. An oversized style in an unexpected material like linen or vegan leather can help make a traditional workwear piece feel fresh again.

St. Agni Origami Single-Breasted Linen Blazer

$490, Shop Now

St. Agni via Browns

Nanushka Mariko Belted Vegan Leather Blazer

$1,025, Shop Now

Nanushka via Net-a-Porter

Ganni Oversized Blazer

$575, Shop Now

Ganni

The New Work Shoe

“The hardest adjustment style-wise when it comes to returning to the office is the shoe conundrum,” explains Ogunnaike. “It’s something that New Yorkers or people that live in cities with mass transit have to deal with.” She adds that having to organize shoes for commuting, for the office and for the gym afterwards left her not only overwhelmed with planning, but constantly carrying a heavy bag full of options. “I’ve leaned into loafers that are comfortable that I can wear on my walk to the train, sneakers that are polished enough to wear in the office, and have sort of resigned to the fact that I’ll never wear a high heel on my commute again.” 

Church’s Pembrey 2W Polished Fumè Loafer 

$1,020 Shop Now

Church’s

Wales Bonner Beige Adidas Originals Edition Japan Sneakers

$230, Shop Now

Adidas via SSENSE

Gabriela Hearst Hays Leather and Crocheted Cotton Loafers

$990, Shop Now

Gabriela Hearst via Net-a-Porter

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